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Do also the bishops and the Pope belong to the "learning Church"?

Do also the bishops and the Pope belong to the ‘learning Church’?

What is the meaning of the distinction between the teaching church and the church taught - ecclesia docens and ecclesia discens? Its correct meaning is certainly not that there are two distinct groups of Christians, one doing the instructing, the other the learning.

The whole church, no one excepted, is a learning church. There is no person who does not have the invitation (and duty!) to learn more and more about the word of God. Who could ever claim that he or she does not need to progress toward the whole truth? Moreover, who could ever claim that Christians of past or present generations could not teach him new insights or greater wisdom?

We all belong to the learning church.

The whole church, each and every one in it, is called also to proclaim the Word. In fact, this is what is happening: mothers are instructing their children, catechists are explaining the message, missionaries are spreading the Word the world over. They are teaching. One could even go further: during Vatican Council II theologians were instructing bishops, very much so. On many evenings always around, at an appointed time and place, to prevent the universal church from falling victim to false beliefs.

Our belief in the proclamations of an ecumenical councils is ultimately belief in a provident God who is both firm and gentle in carrying out his plans disponens omnia firmiter et suaviter.

During Vatican II the theologians played a key role. When conferences were held all over the city of Rome, the authentic teachers of the church were genuine learners. On the next morning it may have been the bishops’ turn; they approved of the documents which were meant to instruct the whole church, theologians included.

What then can this distinction mean? It can have a meaning in certain well defined circumstances. When an ecumenical council solemnly proclaims the Catholic doctrine, it teaches in the name of the whole church; and the rest of the church is being taught. But the process does not end there: often those who are so taught are able to find a deeper meaning in the doctrine proclaimed than the proclaimers themselves. (22)

22. Newman’s writings testify that he probably (certainly?) achieved a better understanding (intel-legere) of the doctrine of infallibility than many of the bishops who defined it at Vatican Council I—including the bishop of Rome, Pius IX. The bishops had the capacity to bear authentic witness to the existence of the mystery, the theologian had the charism to penetrate its meaning to a depth that eventually was universally appreciated.

Many bishops who with their votes contributed to the decisions of Vatican Council II have greatly benefited from reading later the commentaries of theologians. Thus the learners became teachers, and the teachers became learners. In this way the church progresses toward the whole truth.

If the church is healthy and vigorous, there will be a strong and creative interplay between the various members and groups, each contributing according to their calling and capacity to the work of proclaiming the good news. If, however, some members or groups (“constituents”) of the church are less than able to make their own contribution, there will be a vacuum and a shift; others will take their place. Thus, if there is no laity, well informed, reflective and articulate in speech, the clergy will take over, and will begin to function as if they were the only teachers, or the only thinkers, and so forth. The so called “clericalization” of the life of the church was probably brought upon us by such a vacuum and consequent shift. Admittedly, the situation is now changing ever since Vatican Council II a better balance has been sought and there is a gradual progress (even if unduly slow) in granting to the laity their rightful inheritance.

From: The Church: Learning and Teaching, by Ladislas Örsy, Michael Glazier 1987, chapter 1. Read the whole chapter here.

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